In the cacophony of a world at war with itself, how does the sensitive soul find space for nurturing spirit? How does an artist, in particular, create a space of contemplation and creativity to do her work? James Baldwin wrote:
Only an artist can tell what it is like for anyone who gets to this planet to survive it.
Though this may sound self-serving and even grandiose, the Truth often surfaces that way. To write or paint or compose music when the world around you is so loud you can’t hear your talent—that is the artist’s challenge. Hemingway lived in a tower, his wife the gatekeeper. When he was creating, she stopped people at the door and allowed no interruption of his creativity. Picasso’s wife did the same. I’ve often wondered if the preponderance of male music composers resulted from the gate-keeping of wives, sisters and mothers who were denied the same privilege. A plethora of wealthy women and men gifted and sponsored mostly male artists during their lives—artists like Rilke, Rodin, Michelangelo and Van Gogh. They offered these artists the opportunity to focus on their art, not the difficulties of life.
Regardless, we who live in a world that rewards the loud and persistent while ignoring the shy and introverted, continue to create. And if we create a life of beauty and gentleness, we are building an antidote to noise and destruction. Toni Morrison wrote:
“Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom.”
There has never been a time in my lifetime that was more chaotic than now. During the Second World War, people had faith in the steady hand and intellect of their leaders. They felt secure in what was seen, at least then, as a moral and political unity of the nation. We couldn’t be further from that now. But if Morrison is right—and I believe she is—the chaos itself leads to creativity. The challenge is to take that chaos into a place of solitude and attention in order to create. Again, how do we accomplish that in the noise and disruption surrounding us? And why should we? Again, Toni Morrison writes the following in her essay “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear” published in The Nation:
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language.
That is how civilizations heal.
Many artists are rising up in the chaos and speaking, painting, playing the truth of their souls. Somewhere in all of this is the call for solitude that many absolutely require to be creative. When James Baldwin was thirty-eight he wrote: “Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone.” He’s not talking about living a hermit’s life on a mountain-top or an island. He’s talking about time to be within and discover who you are as an artist and how you can serve your gift. Everyone is an artist—an artist of the heart, as poet Peter Meinke has written of his mother.
In silence and solitude we hear the voices of our Truth, our life’s intention. When the voices of society overwhelm us with their opinions, beliefs, desires—including the desire to create you in their image—we are unable to serve our purpose as artists. On the other hand, when we go to a place of beauty, even just to stroke a tree, everything changes. Our soul swells in the face of beauty. We can create these places in our prayer, meditation and dreams as well as in reality. I know what my places of beauty are. They include holding a child; being in the Muir Woods; enjoying a deep and satisfying hug with my partner or friend or child or grandchild; creating a new poem. Ahhh! Beauty is everywhere.
When Lance and I lived in California, we didn’t have a television. We would regularly go to my sister’s house or a bar on Saturdays to watch college football, and sometimes baseball. In those few years we created a company, wrote three books, developed several workshop models and taught. We are moving to Jacksonville next month and have discussed abstaining from television again—the presence of my three daughters with houses and televisions is a safety net!
As I said, solitude is not only for those who officially call themselves “artists.” The ordinary human benefits immeasurably when making contact with their soul. The beloved writer, John O’Donohue, shared this belief in his book Anam Cara: “…your trust in your inner belonging radically alters your outer belonging. Unless you find belonging in your solitude, your external longing will remain needy and driven.”
The Celtic culture believed wholly in the spirituality of wild and deserted places. We know how to go there in our meditation, our dreams, our late-at-night awakenings and our purposeful intent to find solitude. This inner solitude, as he says, will change everything about your life. It is not a minor act to consciously go to your soul to see your destiny. It is essential, not only for the writer, the dancer, the artist, the composer, that we take this inner journey.
Those who say they have no time for this pursuit have not prioritized the interior journey. If there is time for a physical workout, a haircut, a movie or dinner out, then there is time for an emotional and spiritual check-in.
Our whole world would change if we could only find the beauty of our inner self. It is worth trying. I have many recommendations in my book “The Promise: Revealing the Purpose of Your Soul,” and strongly recommend reading O’Donohue and the beautiful poet Mary Oliver. For those who do not usually invite themselves into their own personal solitude, you should be prepared for a world of wonder and a sense of belonging as you do. The rewards are physical, mental and emotional. As for me, it’s time to meditate.